Ralph Waldo Emerson once said It is a luxury to be understood. Why is it that you can say the exact same thing to three different employees or coworkers at your company and get three different reactions? One will give you a blank stare. The second will respond with a stream of excuses. And the third understands what you are saying and comes up with a suggestion that you hadn’t even considered.
Why are some people able to listen actively? And why do others seem to just not get it? Is it the chemistry between two people? Laziness? Not caring? Stubbornness? Difficulty focusing?
Today Im going to tell you about the different categories of poor listeners and some techniques on how to deal with them while youre on the job.
Before delving into why some people seem to have listening deficits, let’s take a moment to consider good listeners. Think of how doctors listen before making a diagnosis. After asking, “What’s wrong?” the best doctors listen attentively to the patient’s words and tune in to any unusual symptoms. While being keenly aware of what’s “going around,” doctors listen so as not to jump to any conclusions. Then, after sifting through all the available information, the doctor can make an accurate diagnosis.
Accurately processing information is what good listeners do naturally. However, the reality is that for many people, listening is a skill that requires constant sharpening. Why is this? I have found that poor listeners basically fall into one of three categories. They are: self-absorbed, unfocused and rules driven. Lets start with the self-absorbed individuals.
These individuals place their own priorities above yours. They may be opinionated, stubborn or perhaps overly driven to have you agree with them. As a result, they come off as “knowing it all” and not really having the time or desire to listen to anyone.
Unfocused individuals usually have a messy desk, They constantly forget things and have an inability to finish what they start. Unfocused individuals need direction and structure in order to accomplish their goals. Their inability to remain focused prevents them from fully understanding and taking action on what they hear.
Rules-driven individuals are capable of listening, but these individuals have a tendency to be overly cautious. They focus on minor details so much that they are unable to see the big picture. Their blinders become like ear plugs too, and they only hear part of what is being said.
Once you understand what is blocking a person’s ability to listen, there are techniques that managers can use to help these listening “impaired individuals.
Strategies for Self-Absorbed Individuals
For instance, when dealing with self-absorbed individuals, try using this approach: Have them repeat what they hear. The intention is not to mimic but to understand and clarify what was said.
Periodically, it may be necessary to remind them not to dismiss an idea before considering it fully. Self-absorbed individuals need to learn that they don’t have to agree with others in order to listen. This realization can help them work toward being more open-minded.
Strategies for Un-Focused Individuals
Now how can you help unfocused individuals to listen better? One technique is to give them only as much information as they actually need to get the job done. If priorities change, simply give them new instructions. While our style may be to share with others the overall picture, this can overwhelm unfocused individuals. They deal best with one-step at-a-time instructions.
Another technique to use with unfocused people is to try to prevent outside distractions when talking to them. Also, occasionally ask more questions to see if your message is getting through. In this way, unfocused individuals will realize that you expect their complete attention, and your probing will encourage them to ask questions about those things they don’t understand.
Strategies for Rules-Driven Individuals
Individuals who are rules-driven may be the trickiest of all to handle. While they hear, they do not relate with anything outside of their comfort zone. The problem begins when they are confronted with a project or request that doesn’t fit neatly into what they are accustomed to. Their immediate response is to bring to your attention all the reasons why something can’t be done, instead of taking the time to look at what you really need. It is important to recognize this when you are trying to get your message across on an approach or project that they don’t agree with.
Keep in mind that these individuals are probably more preoccupied with the potential impact of what you are saying rather than on what you’re actually saying. They’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Don’t they realize what is involved in doing this?” or “This is going to mean a lot more work for me.” Making your expectations clear up front can help ease the concerns of rules-driven individuals.
Ultimately they’ll feel more comfortable if you can explain a new project within the confines of the rules with which they are already familiar. If you are telling them something that will rearrange their priorities, be very explicit about your new expectations. Rules-driven individuals can spin their wheels and worry unnecessarily when things are changing. Your time will be well spent on the front end by making them understand and feel comfortable with the new order you are giving them.
Today I have told you about the three categories of poor listeners, they are: self-absorbed, unfocused and rules driven. I also told you some techniques on how to deal with them in the workplace. Knowing why someone is a poor listener can help you to relate better with them. But it is only part of the solution. It is unrealistic to expect that poor listeners can be transformed overnight. Listening remains a two-way street, taking a combined effort as well as understanding from both sides.
Improving someone’s listening skills is not as simple as talking louder. Understanding the problem, accurately assessing and identifying their individual limitations and following up with prescriptive training or appropriate management techniques can lay the groundwork for improved communication. Or, at the very least, you can make sure that your points get across and that your objectives are met. So the next time one of your fellow employees or coworkers doesnt seem to listen, use what I have told and you will correctly enable them to listen. Thank you.